There cannot be a single player who will relish facing seed-slayer Xavier Malisse. After his stunning upset of Gilles Simon on Thursday, the Belgian was at it again with a 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 triumph over Fernando Verdasco which brought emotional scenes at the climax.
Malisse has always enjoyed his time at Wimbledon and caused upsets against Greg Rusedski and Richard Krajicek en route to a semi-final place in 2002. He may be in the twilight of his career at 31 but the same fighting spirit remains in a man that was once in the world’s top 20 but is now languishing at 75.
“It's been a long year, this year,” he admitted afterwards. “The beginning wasn't so good. It's tough. You keep fighting but I was not winning the close matches. The last three, four weeks, everything's coming together.
“It just means a lot, because last year I played the fourth round and had points to defend. There's a lot of physical work, a lot of work you do before you come here. You play a lot of matches. It's just nice to win a close match like this and on the third round of a slam, so it just means a lot. Wimbledon is one of my favourite tournaments so it’s great to be in the second week again.”
However you could not see any other outcome than a win for left-handed No.17 seed Verdasco during a first set of total dominance.
In blustery conditions both men struggled to adapt as Malisse looked exhausted from the exertions the previous day and Verdasco dominated the Belgian all over the court.
The Spaniard broke Malisse in the very first game and then took apart the Belgian in the next service game. Suddenly it was 5-0 and, with unforced errors aplenty, Malisse looked way off the pace.
Verdasco comfortably saw out the first set but suddenly Malisse regained composure in the second while his opponent’s performance dipped. The wind was playing its part with Verdasco firing long too often. That was to prove his undoing as the set when to a tiebreaker, in which the world No.16 shot long at the crucial point of 5-5 and Malisse wrapped up the set.
The momentum of the match had switched as a fine first game of the third helped Malisse, his morale boosted, to break Verdasco in a service game in which the left hander struggled.
Verdasco was feeling the pressure but kept his cool about him with a moment of colour a game later in which he politely told standing Court No.3 spectators sit down.
Unfortunately for him, the only standing ovations would be for Malisse, who broke twice more in the set as Verdasco’s double fault count increased.
Verdasco openly admits he may not be a great grass-court player but he certainly has his resolve and came back to snatch a closely-fought fourth set, taking an early break on his third chance after Malisse had faced 0-40.
The decider was similarly tense, but Malisse took his chance at the second attempt for a 5-3 lead, and then served out the match, before burying his head into his shirt in jubilation at the victory after three hours and seven minutes.
It is the fourth time he has made Wimbledon’s second week and Monday’s potential opponents, Roger Federer or Julien Benneteau, will not be looking forward to a contest with the wily right-hander.